Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Finding Neverland

A Movie Review by Zinta Aistars

# Starring: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet
# Director: Marc Forster
# Format: Color, Closed-captioned
# Rated: PG
# Studio: Miramax
# DVD Release Date: March 22, 2005
# $29.99

Movies are just one means of enjoying flights into fancy, escaping from the everyday into a world of fantasy, where all things are possible. Imagination rules the day, and with imagination, there are no rules.

The on-screen story of J. M. Barrie (played by Johnny Depp) as the author/playwright of Peter Pan is a delightful flight into another world, if not always one that is removed from the pains and bruisings of reality. Inspired by (if on occasion departing from) true events, the story about the writing of the story shows the evolving friendship between Barrie and the widow Davies (played by Kate Winslet) and her four young sons.

Barrie meets the family while sitting on a park bench writing ideas for a play. I was charmed from the moment Depp seamlessly left his creative work to give in to a moment of play with the boy curled up below the park bench. While in reality I have watched such attempts from adults to come down to the level of children in relating to them as playmates appear a mix of patronizing at worst, clumsy at best, Depp, as Barrie, suffers no such stumbling. Surely, neither did Barrie, or he would not have created such a work of playfulness, even inspiring a psychological term of "the Peter Pan syndrome" to refer to adult men who refuse to grow up.

But there is a child in all of us, isn't there? There should be. Just as there is the wisdom of the ancients, and perhaps the two go hand in hand, as playmates. Barrie soon spends his days, when he is not writing, playing with the four boys. Games of cowboys and Indians, heroes and villains, pirates and kings. Play unlocks Barrie's creativity to eventually become the groundbreaking play, Peter Pan (with Dustin Hoffman as curmudgeonly theatre producer who goes along with a begrudging trust in Barrie's talent, even while spouting doubt after doubt). Somewhat in the background to all of this play is the widow Davies, and one never quite understands whether there is a romantic bond forming or simply one of deeply felt friendship. We never see the relationship between the two adults develop beyond the latter, although love is evident. Barrie already has a wife, and we see her pain, too, as she loses her husband to the widow's family and her own marriage unravels. Neglected, she finds another companion, and the Barrie marriage is over.

These are the pangs of reality. They, too, show up in Peter Pan on the stage. There is death, there is loss, there is grief. But there is also the magic of taking flight, "real" and of the spirit. The on stage story parallels the story off stage.

We know already that the play, Peter Pan, becomes a classic, and rightfully so. But I found myself often watching the story behind the story unfold with the bittersweetness of nostalgia and longing. I watched the magic of creativity, of art. I saw the human connections made and unmade, fragile and tender, between adult and adult, adult and child. I saw a world, real and imaginary, that has so often become lost to us, as we increasingly replace imagination with a crass and ugly reality, or, perhaps more accurately referred to as--indulgence.

Depp is exquisite. I've come to expect that from this actor. Winslet is convincing, offering not too much, not too little, with excellent timing. The four boys, especially young Peter, are wonderful. Were there more such children today! Were there more such adults who knew how to play.